The Battle At Lake Changjin, China's blockbuster depiction of the Korean War

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Wu Jing plays Wu Qianli in The Battle At Lake Changjin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Wu Jing plays Wu Qianli in The Battle At Lake Changjin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

The Battle At Lake Changjin is based on the actual battle of Chosin Reservoir during the 1950 Korean War. It focuses on the story of the fictional 7th Company of the People’s Volunteer Army. The battle was a turning point that ultimately led to the withdrawal of American troops from North Korea.

As The Battle At Lake Changjin is one of the films dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, it inevitably has propaganda elements and biased views, including presenting the Americans in a bad light and the Chinese in a glorified manner. Those aside though, here’s how the film depicts the decisive battle.

1. It's three hours of details.

This war film runs for almost three hours – two hours and 56 minutes, to be exact. But The Battle At Lake Changjin has meaningfully used the time to elaborate on the long and arduous journey of the Chinese army, and their road to success after countless setbacks.

What makes the film memorable is also the fact that it has included the harsh and extremely cold weather (negative 30 to 40 degrees Celsius) as another enemy to overcome. It's an eye-opening reminder that wars can happen during the freezing winter too, with life-threatening consequences.

However, the computer-generated imagery for some of the war scenes is not realistic at all, especially near the start of the film. To make things worse, the acting of the American troops is also very stiff and emotionless. These unfortunately drag down the overall quality of the film. With a relatively high budget of US$200 million, The Battle At Lake Changjin could definitely have done better in these areas.

2. The battles get more intense each time.

Rather than springing into non-stop action with one magnificent end, Changjin carefully plants multiple battles of increasing intensity along its plot line. It starts off with great suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat. As the Chinese army lies motionlessly to go undetected by the American troops, it's as if you're immersed in the face-off, hiding and fearing for your life as well.

The film then goes on to depict several exciting battles, and how there is hardly any rest for the soldiers. Just when they are done with one fight, before they can even finish their food or treat their wounds, another battle ensues. But these soldiers remain motivated and determined – a fighting spirit, although possibly fictional, that we can all learn from.

3. It's fronted by seasoned action star Wu Jing.

Leading the 7th Company of the People’s Volunteer Army is Wu Qianli, who is portrayed by action actor Wu Jing. From Wolf Warrior to My Country, My Parents, Wu is no stranger to war action films. However, it's getting boring to see him taking on the role of an experienced soldier, although he definitely suits the character. Nothing can go wrong this way, but his acting career will become rigidly confined to this comfort zone.

Jackson Yee plays Wu Wanli in The Battle At Lake Changjin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Jackson Yee plays Wu Wanli in The Battle At Lake Changjin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

Acting along his side and stealing the limelight is actor-singer Jackson Yee, who plays Wu Wanli, the ignorant and impulsive brother of Qianli. As a young heartthrob and one of the most commercially valuable stars in China, Yee shows great potential to do well in acting, on top of his idol career as part of the Chinese boy band TFBoys.

Directed by Tsui Hark, Chen Kaige, and Dante Lam, The Battle At Lake Changjin is coming to Singapore theatres on 11 November.

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